Meet the Team

Lauren Czajka
Executive Director

Lauren joined the YouthRoots crew in 2013. Her background is in experiential education and she holds an MA in Human Rights from the University of Denver. Her favorite activity is doing anything outside with her husband and toddler. She loves working with inspiring youth who make the world a better place.

Joseph Graves
Director of Operations

Joseph is an alumnus of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from the University of Colorado. He is an award-winning American actor, writer, singer, and artist. Joseph had an early role in an HBO film, “Walkout’ and had a TV show, picked up by Amazon Prime entitled “The Locals Series”. He brings with him experience as a black belt in LEAN Six Sigma, as former Director of Constituents Services with Governor Hickenlooper’s administration, and as a staff member with the Colorado Senate. He recently taught art in Denver for the past 3 years and represents Colorado Arts Educators in DEI on a national level. He is ecstatic to be YouthRoots' Director of Operations. He enjoys traveling to new places and eating “all the things”, drinking delicious coffee, singing karaoke, painting, and spending time with his family. 

Erin Button
Program Manager

Erin joined the YouthRoots team in October 2018 after moving to Colorado from Chicago. She has a Masters of Nonprofit Management from DePaul University and over 10 years of experience in the nonprofit sector. During her free time, Erin enjoys reading, baking, and hiking with her husband and two fur-babies.

Susie Roman
The YouthScan Project Director

Susie Roman has been leading collaborative teams for 15+ years to advance the impact of nonprofit organizations in mental health, gender-based violence prevention, LGBTQ+ advocacy, positive youth development and social justice. She is thrilled to serve on the YouthRoots team as The YouthScan Project Manager. She is passionate about elevating youth voice on issues that affect their lives and looks forward to bringing her background in program development, outcomes evaluation, communications and fundraising to this innovative project. Susie holds a master’s degree in Gender Studies from the University of British Columbia. When she is not working, Susie loves roller skating, dancing, aerial, lounging in hot tubs, and spending time with her friends and family.

Jenn Ragain
Program Manager

Jenn received her Masters of Social Work from the University of Denver in 2017 after completing her practicum with YouthRoots. Her expertise is in operations and program development with a passion for youth voice. In her spare time, she enjoys being outside with her partner and dog or snuggling with her cats. 

Anna Regan
Program & Admin Coordinator

Anna (she/her) is super excited to be joining the YouthRoots team as a Program Coordinator. She has taught in Denver and Aurora for the past 4 years and is eager to bring her teaching background and commitment to equity work to this amazing organization. Originally from the DC area, Anna has been in Colorado since 2014. She loves her cats, Goose and Lentil, being in the sunshine, and eating noodles of all varieties.

Isaac Winchester
Program Coordinator, Facilitator - South Denver Board

Isaac Winchester is a current college student studying Criminal Justice in hopes of preventing individuals from being harmed by the system and providing services to those that already have been. He plans to parlay his education into a career as a Paralegal. He received recognition from his college for leading an initiative to rectify menstrual inequity on campus in 2021 and again for dedication to inclusive excellence in 2022. Isaac is a passionate proponent of lifelong learning and utilizing the expertise of youth today to improve the quality of tomorrow. He has participated in YouthRoots as a GIV fellow and a facilitator of the 2022 South Denver YouthCharge Board. Offline, he enjoys watching scary movies and making playlists for every mood imaginable.

Alyssa Hornyak
Program & Admin Coordinator

Originally from Michigan, Alyssa’s love of the mountains brought her to Denver to pursue her Master of Social Work at DU. She completed her practicum with YouthRoots and transitioned to full-time in August 2019. She brings experience and a passion for youth empowerment to YouthRoots. Outside of the office, Alyssa loves hiking, traveling, and exploring Denver.

Claire Beutler
Program Coordinator

Claire joined the YouthRoots team in November 2021. She is from the Western Slope. Her involvement from a young age with Special Olympics Colorado is where her passion for service and advocacy was born. Claire is a Daniels Scholar who received her Bachelors from Regis University in 2020. She is a proud advocate for the disabled and LGBTQ+ communities. Claire enjoys crossword puzzles and spending time with her animals and family in the mountains.

Alyssa Chavez
Admin Assistant

Alyssa Chavez is a part-time administrative assistant for YouthRoots while earning her bachelor's degree in Human Development and Family Relations at the University of Colorado Denver. A YouthRoots alum, Alyssa has always had a passion for youth empowerment. At home, she enjoys spending time with her friends and her dog. Alyssa also has a love for traveling, reading, and movies. 

Sylvia Kamau-Small
GIV Outreach Lead, North Facilitator

Sylvia, among other roles – is a mother, a wife, sister, aunt, and doggie mom. With a passion for social determinants of health, she’s followed an educational and professional journey to address the disparities experienced by far too many. 

For a large portion of her career, Sylvia has supported the critical work of community organizations, health care centers, school districts, and community coalitions as a grant maker in the philanthropic sector. With Sylvia’s lived experience as a black woman, and an immigrant’s daughter; she’s used her perspective and knowledge to initiate the integration of equitable practices in grantmaking. Sylvia has introduced and advocated for the adoption of participatory grantmaking by the philanthropic sector. Sylvia believes that one of the many benefits of the Youth Roots work is to further advance participatory approaches in the philanthropic sector, while spotlighting the perspective and contributions of youth in philanthropy.

Javon Brame
GIV Facilitator

Javon was born and raised in Colorado and grew up in Northeast Denver (Park Hill).  He is ardent about advocating on behalf of others and being a conduit for the voices of constituencies, as well as seeking to disrupt traditional notions of philanthropy by giving his time, talent, treasure and testimony. He is the past board chair and grant chairman for Denver African American Philanthropists and served on the non-profit internship committee at the Denver Foundation. Most recently, Javon was appointed to serve as a founding advisory committee member for the Black Resilience in Colorado Fund (BRiC) at the Denver Foundation.

Ann Kolbrek
Facilitator - CEI Youth Connections

Ann is the facilitator for the Youth Connections Youth Council in partnership with Colorado Education Initiative (CEI) which uses the YouthRoots program to empower youth to make a difference! Previously, she was the facilitator for the Youth Advisory Council in Sioux Falls, SD and was in YAC with our founder when the idea of YouthRoots was planted.

Ashley Jaramillo
Facilitator - Caring for Denver Youth Advisors

Ashley Jaramillo serves as the Student Events Coordinator in the Office of Student Life at the Community College of Denver. In her role she creates opportunities of engagement for her students by creating diverse and inclusive events. Ashley’s passion is to work with young people and create a sense of community and belong for everyone.

Ru-Jün Zhou
Facilitator - Hemera Beacons

Ru-Jün is the Program Manager on the Contemplative Programs team at Hemera Foundation with over two decades of nonprofit and philanthropy experience in Asia and the US. She is passionate about empowering youth to explore and express their experiences and imagination through the arts. In parallel, she has become a student of somatic contemplative traditions and has learned through years of meditation and dyad practice how we can be with each other with a present and open heart. Ru-Jün is currently in a Master of Oral History program at Columbia University.

Candice Bailey
Facilitator - Aurora YouthBoard

Candice Bailey is an avid way maker, educator, advocate, and leader in the Denver metro area and across the nation. She is the Founder and CEO of Lighthouse Consultants Colorado, which supports community-based action inside of systems, and is the Founder and ED of Light Carrier, a nonprofit dedicated to nationwide interruption of oppression. She has been an advocate for many campaigns, including being the lead organizer for the Elijah McCain murder, and advocating for the families of Jesse Cedillo, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor. Additionally, she was a founding member of The Caravan for Racial Justice in 2020; a former President of National Action Network Denver; and has had the honor of serving the community on many boards and committees across Colorado and the country. Having both education and lived experience has given Ms. Bailey a raw comprehension of what is truly needed for impactful change for everyone

Sydney Zorensky
Facilitator - Douglas County YouthBoard

Sydney is a born and raised "Cali girl". Before moving to Denver, she lived and worked in NYC where she fell in love with working in youth development and empowerment. After ten years of living and working in NYC, she made her home in Denver to be closer to the mountains. Sydney is happy to bring all her years of experience from working in NYC and CO to the YouthBoard. Sydney is a licensed social worker who enjoys immersing herself in the community professionally and personally. When she is not working, she cooks for friends and family, and has adventures with Mr. Rufus (her dog). 

Melissa Heston
Facilitator - Yellow Springs Youth Action Board

Melissa has more than 40 years' experience as a competitive athlete, fitness professional, and dance/theatre artist. She holds a BFA and MFA in Dance and has worked with several nonprofits, universities, and schools in the US in a variety of positions. A “jack of all trades,” she has nimbly shifted from providing food to the food insecure during the pandemic, to ushering the Yellow Springs Schools through the Youth Action Board, scholarship and grant processes, to overseeing the Foundation's social media presence, all while maintaining her full-time job as owner of a personal training company. During her free time, Melissa enjoys partaking in outdoor activities - from gardening to hiking, biking, kayaking, and just sitting by water and watching the waves roll by. Melissa is the wife of Mary Kay Smith (a local business owner) and a mother of 3.

Brianna Apodaca
Facilitator - Pueblo Youth Action Council
Brianna is a proud Colorado Native, born and raised in the San Luis Valley. She has been passionate about empowering youth since she was in high school. She received her undergraduate degree from Colorado College in Anthropology. She is a 2018 Teach for America Corps Member and recently completed her Masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Colorado-Denver. She enjoys working with youth to build their leadership skills and become activists in their community. She believes that students should have a voice and have the ability to impact and change the world around us. She currently serves as an Exceptional Student Services Generalist teacher in Pueblo at Pueblo Academy of Arts.
Sean Kloppenburg
Facilitator - Boulder 15 Forever

Sean Kloppenburg is a Program Associate at Hemera Foundation with experience in education, mindfulness, and philanthropy. Working in the philanthropic sector since 2017, he also taught Social Studies, Health, and personal finance at the High School level. He is a Naropa University certified meditation instructor and has an M.A. in Contemplative Education. He is facilitating the 15 Forever Board in partnership with Community Foundation Boulder County.

Ellen Hartman
Facilitator, YouthRoots Routt County

Ellen Hartman is originally from Pennsylvania and has lived in Colorado for the past 22 years.  In parallel with her 20+ year corporate career in learning and development, Ellen has dedicated her time and passion to serve nonprofits and address needs within her community.  She has supported causes including workforce development, affordable housing, school district needs, the arts, equine therapy and youth sports.  Leveraging her MBA, curiosity, facilitation skills and humor, Ellen is passionate about connecting the dots and bringing people together to tackle meaningful opportunities.  

Ellen and her family moved to Steamboat Springs in 2019.  She enjoys taking in Routt County’s beautiful views and live music, the energy of her two year old yellow lab, and cheering on her two teenage daughters from various sport sidelines. 

Angela Adams
Facilitator - SCYC Youth Leadership Council

Angela began working with youth in 2001 during her year with AmeriCorps. After moving to Cortez, CO with her husband in 2005, Angela went into the education sector and taught for 12 years. She enjoys spending time with her wonderful daughter and amazing family and friends, swimming in natural bodies of water, listening to music, dancing, cross country skiing, reading, watching movies, and traveling. Angela is currently a Program Coordinator at SCYC Listens.

Alexandria Timoll
Curriculum Specialist

Alexandria's journey in the classroom started five years ago after graduating from Brooklyn College with a degree in Childhood Education and Psychology. She continued her education at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center and earned her MA in teaching with a concentration on urban education. Her passion for urban education drives the work she does in the classroom, writing curriculum, and mentoring preservice teachers.

Karen Yi
Communications Coordinator

Karen Yi is an undergraduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles and participated on the Douglas County Youth Board during high school. She started web design as a college freshman as a way to combine her interests in art and computer science. In the past, she has designed T-shirts, posters, banners, flyers, and murals for various school organizations. She hopes to open her own online store one day.

Board of Directors

Miguel In Suk Lovato
Board Chair

Miguel has a bachelor’s in Psychology and a master’s in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Colorado-Denver. He has worked directly with low-income and at-risk youth in various capacities. Miguel currently works for the Donnell-Kay Foundation. At home, he enjoys watching Star Wars movies with his daughter.

Katie Peterson
Vice Chair

Katie Peterson is a Senior Principal in Accenture’s Communications and High-tech Strategy practice. Her experience includes consulting to software and telecommunications companies where she has helped clients in the areas of growth strategy, go-to-market strategy and merger integration.

Lisa Rucker

Lisa Rucker joined the Gates Family Foundation in April of 2014. She is the primary Foundation staff for the capital grants program, and oversees the Foundation's grant management system. Lisa is a graduate of Towson University in Maryland. In her free time, Lisa enjoys playing outside with her family and perfecting her Pho recipe.

Steve Szymanski

Steven grew up in Winnetka, Illinois and attended the University of Denver for business. After serving in Vietnam, he completed a 40 year career as a Commercial Real Estate Developer. Steven is married and has a daughter who is currently a CSU student.

Eva Amin
Youth Representative

Eva is a junior at Stargate High School. She joined YouthRoots in 2020 because she wanted to give back to her community and empower youth. She now serves as a member of the Executive Committee on the North Denver YouthBoard, where they raised funds to help prevent substance abuse and improve teen mental health.

Lacey Books
Founder, Director Emeritus

Lacey’s long-standing passion with youth philanthropy began in high school in Sioux Falls, SD. She graduated from Claremont McKenna College with a BA in Neuroscience and went on to earn her teaching certificate. In 2010, Lacey decided it was time to follow her true passion, inspiring youth to act on their big ideas. Lacey enjoys spending time with her three daughters and husband, as well as sailing, skiing, and hiking.

Javon Brame
Board Member

Javon was born and raised in Colorado and grew up in Northeast Denver (Park Hill). He is ardent about advocating on behalf of others and being a conduit for the voices of constituencies, as well as seeking to disrupt traditional notions of philanthropy by giving his time, talent, treasure and testimony. He is the past board chair and grant chairman for Denver African American Philanthropists and served on the non-profit internship committee at the Denver Foundation. Most recently, Javon was appointed to serve as a founding advisory committee member for the Black Resilience in Colorado Fund (BRiC) at the Denver Foundation.

Sara Eyassu
Youth Representative

Sara is a God loving girl who hopes to apply this spirit of love and giving to becoming a lawyer, whether it's in criminal, family or environmental policy. This leads to a fulfilling life that understands the beneficial work she's doing while drawing close to people who will give her a diverse perspective for lifelong enlightenment, similar to this board!

Brent Hubbell
Board Member

Brent Hubbell grew up in Colorado and attended the University of Colorado at Boulder where he earned a BS in Finance. Brent works as a Senior Vice President at FirstBank. He has spent his time volunteering for various non-profits. When Brent is not at work, he enjoys spending time with his family, attending sporting events, and traveling.

Dele Johnson
Board Member

Dele is a 21st century “Renaissance Man” when it comes to digital communications and media. As a Communications Associate at The Denver Foundation, he supports both internal and external communications. His role with the Foundation spans from website and social media content management to helping his colleagues understand and use the latest features on Zoom. Dele is a passionate and dedicated volunteer in the Denver community.

Laura Mangels
Board Member

Laura lives in Richmond in the San Francisco Bay Area. She received her PhD in Sociology from the University of California at Berkeley in 2018. Her research interests include structural inequality, racism, care-centered models for public safety, and mental health. She is currently a research fellow at the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

Katie Payer
Board Member

Katie owns Katie Payer Consulting, which provides clients with focused and high-quality support in creating engaging, thoughtful, and impactful programs to fill the void in events and company content. Previously, Katie was the VP of Communications at Young Americans Center for Financial Education. Katie graduated from Santa Clara University with degrees in marketing and communication. She resides in Denver with her husband, daughter, and son.

Teah Selkin
Board Member

Teah is a rising junior at Columbia University studying Financial Economics with a concentration in Educational Studies. After serving on the South Denver YouthRoots Board from 2017 to 2019, she became passionate about leveraging education and philanthropy to drive positive social change. Teah is a strong advocate for youth empowerment and dedicates her time as a mentor to younger students in both Denver and New York.

Nina Vendhan
Board Member

Nina is a native of Colorado. She attended Kent Denver and later graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University with a degree in economics and mathematics. She was the editor of two best-selling economics textbooks and is passionate about providing quality education to children worldwide. In addition to volunteering and fundraising in her local community, Nina has conducted award-winning economic research on how to improve India's school system. She is also an advisory council member of the inaugural Women and Girls of Color Fund. Nina enjoys skiing and hiking in her free time. 

Aimee Yan
Board Member

Aimee Yan is a first year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill pursuing degrees in Public Policy and Social and Economic Justice. Her time as a Jefferson County YouthBoard member and YouthRoots intern inspired her passion for social justice, equitable education access, and youth empowerment. She is involved in the community as a Development Officer for the Institute of Politics, volunteer for the Asian American Center, and research assistant studying the impacts of COVID-19 on first-generation college students. She spends her free time cooking, reading, and hammocking in the Rocky Mountains.

YouthRootsMeet the Team